Quick Yammer tip: controlling external group creation

What do IT pros usually do when they don’t understand something or don’t have a clear direction? KILL IT! Kill it before something happens that we don’t understand!!!!

I’ve seen this a lot with Yammer external groups. IT don’t want users creating external groups due to data leakage or other compliance/governance purposes, so disable the feature. The problem here is that this approach in Yammer also stops users accessing external groups hosted in other networks.

This scenario gives rise to “Shadow IT” as users tend to find their way around IT and will find other tools like Slack, Facebook, Google Groups, and any number of others.

In some instances, IT wants to block users accessing external groups in Yammer completely. Unfortunately, there’s a big problem with this approach because users then turn to LinkedIn as it is generally not blocked, and has a community / group aspect where IT has no control. Often people will use their own phones to access services blocked by the corporate firewall/proxy. Or in cases like Yammer they might get an account created in someone else’s Yammer network and join the groups anyway (I and a few others I know play host to such wayward users who still want to participate in conversations, but their IT department has disabled external groups).

There’s two things IT departments can do here:

Allow users to access external groups, but prevent their ability to create them.

If you check the checkbox in the picture below, external groups will no longer work.

What other users in those external groups will see is this:

In one external group I’m a member of we’ve turned it into a sport to use memes and GIFs to make light of people disappearing in this manner. (The organisation in the screenshot below had the name “Connect” as part of their name.)

So, what’s the tip here? There is a way to prevent the creation of external groups by users, but still allow them to join external groups they have been invited to. You can read more in this support article: https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Create-and-manage-external-groups-in-Yammer-9ccd15ce-0efc-4dc1-81bc-4a424ab6f92a

Unfortunately, it’s not a setting you can change yourself, and instead you’ll need to contact support from within the Office 365 admin panel.

Get your house in order

As I mentioned earlier, users tend to find their way around blocks and restrictions which is actually worse for governance and compliance than giving them access to something that isn’t completely managed in the first place.

As new services pop up that IT doesn’t necessarily know about, users will subscribe to them which results in more shadow IT. Sure you can block Facebook, Slack, but if you start blocking Google or LinkedIn that will cause real problems – and there are plenty of other community and group chat solutions out there.

So instead of burying your head in the sand and turning things off or blocking access – prioritise the compliance and governance frameworks needed to support the use of tools like Yammer or more recently Microsoft Teams. This may require actually investing the time and effort to build a robust policy as well as potentially procuring a third-party monitoring system, but it’s better to be on the front foot with appropriate guidance and measures than annoying users and losing control of data.

The two speeds and faces of Office 365

Office 365 has evolved an incredible amount since it was launched over 6 years ago (I’m talking specifically about Office 365, not BPOS before it).

Initially the online versions of Exchange, SharePoint and Lync server products were quite limited compared to their on-premises versions, however that changed some time ago. Recently I wrote an article explaining how Office 365 delivers considerably more features than even possible on-premises – something which grows further with every day that a new feature is made available.

Historically Office 365 has been an IT-led set of tools, often replacing on-premises infrastructure in a like-for-like fashion. However, services like Office 365 Groups, Microsoft Teams, StaffHub, Yammer, Stream, Planner and others require almost no IT involvement at all. This begs the question: who is actually in control?

Is it the user who can create groups and use services without having to go through IT?

Or is it IT, who can disable these features at an organisational level.

This is the challenge customers of Office 365 face now: do we want to control everything, giving features and functionality to users when we want, or do we want to allow users to innovate and demonstrate how they would like to work.

Since changing roles early this year I have been able to be more involved on the customer side in the adoption and implementation of Office 365, which has allowed me to have more in-depth conversations with customers around how they want to transform their businesses and work practices, ultimately making their people and organisation more productive.

This was demonstrated to me when I was working on an Office 365 strategy with a public sector client. We came to the point of Office 365 Groups and the services that integrate with them. My jaw almost hit the floor when the CIO said that he would prefer to allow for staff to create their own groups and discover the functionality for themselves. While this approach presents a potential governance challenge, his approach was one of learning from the users in the organisation about how they want to work and what groups they believe should exist. While most organisations generally follow the pyramid style organisational chart – the reality is that we are generally involved in groups, teams and projects that span multiple areas of the organisation.

So instead of attempting to dictate to these people how they should work, this CIO instead chose to observe how staff wanted to work. This approach provided insights that were not previously available:

  • Discovery of group requirements that are not necessarily visible when talking with managers and team leaders
  • Being able to identify who in the organisation has an interest and desire to work differently using the technologies available to them in Office 365

What this allowed was the ability for the CIO to build a group of change champions by discovering a personality type that he wouldn’t have been able to do using conventional methods.

While this is a positive outcome, we can’t let our Office 365 deployments become the wild west with Groups and content sprawling everywhere. Ultimately there needs to be a governance and support model behind any deployment – however it is important to remember that what works well for one organisation may not work well for another. Culture, people, geography, history, and many other factors come into this.

The other thing organisations need to be prepared for is the investment in third-party tools and resources (ie. people) to deliver the right mixture of governance and administration, as well as end user and business enablement.

The payoff for allowing users to work the way they want will outweigh the cost to support and control it.